Great report, Ken.
I posted my photos below since they're wider than the white background. Here's my version of the trip :)
I had been wanting to do an inland hike in the Lost Coast area for some time now. Ken T. mentioned to me recently that he needed to get back out there, so I suggested this loop. I had heard there is "a lot of up and down inland" and had an idea we would get to experience it, but I figured with the low mileage it should be straight forward. Things don't always go exactly as planned, and I also have an uncanny knack for picking routes that force me to push a little... so it would be a memorable trip!
Ken and I set out separately for the Saddle Mountain trailhead where we would arrive, hours later, nearly simultaneously.
The forecast I had looked at earlier claimed something like "partly cloudy and mid 50's" with night time temps around 40. Actual conditions at the trailhead were more like gray-out mist clouds blowing by at 25 mph, everything soaking wet, temps already in the low 40's at 3:00 PM. Not exactly confidence inspiring, but hey... we both made it and were well supplied with food and drink, so what the heck.
Friday - Saddle Mountain to Maple Camp
Windy and wet was the theme. Visibility is like 50' in some places. As we passed over a ridgeline somewhere in the gray, it was a surreal feeling to see the mist quietly blowing by and no other sounds what so ever. We wandered into maple camp about 5.5 miles later, and nearly walked right through it. The camp blends into the forest well except for some lightly treaded foot paths leading to the individual sites. We had the haunted forest all to ourselves.
I wasn't carrying any warm base layers and would be sleeping under a 40* Revelation quilt from Enlightened Equipment. I was a little concerned about being cold and especially staying dry. I hadn't used the Lightheart Solo in any wet weather until now. Worries aside, I cruised over to Ken's Unna (or as I call it, the man palace) for some dinner, beers, and conversation. Retired back to my less plush accommodations after a bit and to my surprise, stayed dry and slept pretty good!
Saturday - Maple Camp to King Peak to Miller Flat
The weather was maybe looking better in the morning. I was trying to be optimistic. I enjoyed some fresh fruit, dates and cream cheese for breakfast in the hollow of a tree down by the drainage. We got out of camp a little later and made King Peak pretty quickly... still gray, but hints of blue sky appear once in a while. Discovered Adam C.'s sleeping spot under the observation deck... facing directly into the wind :) Then, Ken summons phantom hikers from the mist by hollering out "hello?"... magically two people appear.
Eventually we descend from the mist to blue skies and the Pacific in the distance. Then the real descent begins over a countless (I lost count after 30) number of switchbacks choked with downed trees on Rattlesnake Ridge trail. Multiple stream crossing at the bottom, followed by more up and down. A rock slide took out a section of trail, so we walked on the creek bed for the last mile or so... lots of rock hopping or loose gravel, pick your poison. Ken showed me how to land surf also, that was neat.
So, the flat (our destination) is completely full; tents, hammocks, and more tents everywhere. We head towards Big Creek a couple miles further down the beach then we had planned to walk... also full. Damn. Another mile point five to Buck Creek... and full! We had to make room, nowhere else to go but up from there. I thought my neighbors were friendlier than Ken's until I found out he was sharing the guy's Sun Shower ;)
Anyway, we had planned to walk that stretch of beach the next day, but it was done now and that turned out to be for the better anyway. ~13.5 miles in a day is usually fine for me; in this case my energy was ok, I just felt a little beat up. The terrain can be punishing to feet and muscles.
Nap time... then met up with Ken for some dinner. I threw down about 1200 calories plus a bunch of whiskey. Somehow the sun disappeared and I was ready to fall asleep outside Ken's tent in the weeds. Staggered back to my tent around 2200 hours and slept like a baby.
Sunday - Buck Creek to Saddle Mountain
Woke up to a cool damp sunrise. Strolled down to the beach for breakfast.... nobody else awake at 0600, Ken joins me after a short bit. We were both glad we had done the beach walk the day prior and now only had to climb out of here.
The climb out of Buck Creek was about what I expected. Mostly steep uphill with very few switchbacks or level ground. Reminded me of the trail out of Warner Valley to Juniper Lake (Lassen), which gains ~1500 feet in about 2 miles, except this one was gaining over 3000 feet in about 3.5 miles :) I guess it shouldn't have been a surprise how fast we got above the ocean, but it was still hard to believe. Just great views. When the trail finally levels off it's just about back to King's Crest trail, and not too far from Saddle Mountain trailhead at that point. Celebration included ice cold beers, snacks, clean clothes, and reflection on the trip.
This was a very legit hike. It had it's share of challenges, but nothing insurmountable. The landscape and views are rugged and inspiring, and the trails make you earn the experience. What a great hike which included just about everything the Lost Coast has to offer.
Wild life spotted included hawks, vultures, snakes (no rattlers), banana slugs, a sea otter, and a Monty Python bunny.
Ken is good people and I had a blast hiking with him. Would definitely do it all over again, and hope to some time down the road.